I Have a Dream…

Do you know what I would really like? What would be amazing and brilliant and fantastic and… ok, ok I’ll get on with it.

A North East Writing Festival. Yes, I know there’s one in York in March, but hear me out, please?

I’m not in the poorest bracket of people in the country, in many ways I’m very lucky. But we’re a one-salary household with two small children, and I just do not have the money to go to something as wonderful as York Festival of Writing. I wanted to, but that’s the way the cookie (or stale bread crust, cue the violins) crumbles. And York is probably my closest option – something like Oxford or Get Writing in Hertfordshire are out of the question; even if the conference / workshop fees were in my range, the cost of actually getting there would make it simply impossible. That’s only going to get worse, since fuel prices are creeping – no, not creeping, soaring up.

The thing is, I always knew that. I always knew that there were wonderful conferences and events where you had the option of workshops and meeting authors and suchlike, and I always assumed that they cost what to our family is a small fortune. I’m not totally unreasonable, I completely agree that anyone agreeing to lead the workshops etc needs to be paid and needs to have their expenses covered. But last year I got a shock. I was on Twitter (I know, what a shocking revelation) and I happened to notice Nicola Morgan tweet that one of her workshops in the Edinburgh Book Festival still had some spaces (btw if you don’t follow Nicola on Twitter or at her blog, do. Incredibly useful.). Out of daftness I clicked through to see how much it was and nearly fell off my seat – I can’t remember the price but it was something like Β£5. Β£5?! For a workshop with a prolific and talented author? And as I looked through the Festival programme all the workshops seemed to be the same sort of price. That’s it, I was off…until I saw that the travel and accommodation put it back out of reach. I couldn’t afford the train and the National Express times meant I would have to stay in Edinburgh overnight.

So imagine my excitement when I heard about the York Festival! I assumed it was the same sort of idea, but, y’know, in York. Sadly for me, it’s not; it’s the sort of thing I would have imagined before seeing the Edinburgh events. And I do not for one minute think it’s not worth every penny – believe me, if I had the money I’d have been booked as soon as the tickets went on sale. Every event looks amazing, nearly every facilitator is someone I’d be over the moon to meet, and one day, one day, I will go. But it doesn’t change the fact that I can’t, and I assume there’s a canny few who are in the same boat. Excuse the colloquialism, I’m getting to the North East bit now…

My dream, then, is to have a North East Festival of Writing, or Books, or Literature – however you want to describe it. Along the same lines as Edinburgh – individual workshops. The thing is, there are loads of talented writers around here but we are a relatively deprived part of the UK and we are a relatively neglected part of the UK. Here’s my, er, manifesto:

The NE Festival would be:

  • accessible: venues in Newcastle City Centre; perhaps also in Durham or Teesside. But Newcastle has such good transport links it is the most feasible.
  • varied: I envisage events with authors, publishers and agents, covering submissions, writing tips, Q&A, book signings, critiques…
  • sociable: alongside the individual events I’d have picnic lunches for participants (giving the speakers some rest time!) and extra dinners on Friday and Saturday night
  • affordable: my rough idea would be a blanket charge to cover entry to 3 days of events and two social dinners (“networking opportunities”!) BUT because that would be a substantial fee, I’d also charge a small amount per individual event – maybe up to Β£10 – and per social, so you could kind of mix and match your own Festival based on your budget. And people bringing a picnic lunch, for example, would keep costs down too.
  • locally-biased: I wouldn’t include accommodation in the overall fee. This would mean that a)prices were kept down as much as possible and b)more local writers were encourage to come. Although if any hotels wanted to do a deal and discount prices for attendees I wouldn’t say no…
  • fair: I’d cover all fees and expenses of the attending speakers. Well, not me personally. You know what I mean.

Now obviously, it’s a HUGE ask. I really do think it would be worthwhile though – I think a lot of writers from the North East would jump at the chance to go to such a Festival; or, of course, from anywhere in the country – you’d just have to sort yourselves out with a bed for the night. Ooh, or we could make it the Glastonbury of writing, and have people camp out, with a big marquee for events… *mind off on another track*

Ahem. Anyway, I’m off to research charitable trusts for the Arts to see if I can persuade anyone to fund this brainwave. Wouldn’t it be good, though? What would you put in, if you were organising the line-up? Any thoughts? But the first person to say it’ll never happen gets a rotten tomato thrown at them. A girl can dream…

21 thoughts on “I Have a Dream…”

  1. As I’m often in the North-East and hail from there, I think it would be a good idea.
    Have you been to Seven Stories in Newcastle? They often have author events but I don’t know of any bigger fairs or anything.
    The problem I forsee is people willing to go along to do the talks etc. With so much choice out there, such as York, Edinburgh, Harrogate, somewhere like Hartlepool (where there are some great places to visit – Marina & Museum etc) doesn’t cut it. So then you are left with Newcastle which can be expensive, though it does have good travel links.
    I’m back every month – will be happy to meet up and help you try to source somewhere and try to find the people to come along too. After all, shy bairns get no sweets, ain’t that right canny lass?
    Sure it can be done!

  2. Sounds great. And I know a cracking designer who would do your promo and branding of the event in return for a bit of exhibition space πŸ˜‰

  3. I’d turn up if enough people paid their fiver to see me–I have to cover my costs, and all that. Mind you, I might not be able to stop Nicola Morgaon gatecrashing no matter how hard I tried. You know how pushy she is.

    Count me in. If we can do it, I’m there.

  4. Just had a thought … I have a whole nursery that we could use over the weekend – start off small the first year … events throughout the day in each room (there are 4) … kitchen & other facilities and could even throw in a haunted sleep-over!

  5. Squee!

    I agree 100% about covering costs, out of the question for speakers to be out of pocket!

    Oh yey *happy dancing* πŸ™‚

  6. My nursery is part of the old police station and there is a big hall upstairs and plenty of other rooms to use too. We take over the whole building – not just the nursery!
    And I could pull a few strings with some b&b owners I know …

  7. Aye that’s right, although we weren’t limited to sweets – in our place shy bairns get nowt! Yes I love Seven Stories and have an annual pass actually; I think it’s a brilliant resource and a great flagship for the NE.
    I know what you mean about getting people, and I don’t think it would be right to ask people to do it for free; it would need some help in the form of arts funding to pay speakers. But I do think that once money was out of the way we could make it sound very attractive!

  8. There’s the Pop Up Gallery venture in Middlesbrough which could point you in the right direction for some possible grants and venue assignments (aka, empty buildings). They put up a writing group for 6 months or so last year.. maybe still are, I’m not paying attention at the moment *stabs a rat for dinner* Tis such hard work surviving up here and all…

    I have never been to a literature/writing festival before, but given my steam building progress of the last four months and the accessibility of a north east festival I would be interested.

  9. Transport is always my problem but I can get to Middlesbrough in half an hour and wouldn’t have to stay. But neither Newcastle nor Durham is out of the question for me. I would be happy to attend workshops and even give one if people want it. Let’s see if it can be done.

  10. Hi Rebecca
    I’m a writer originally from Teesside (now living in Yorkshire). I found you on Twitter,went to your site and lo and behold you’re blogging about a lit festival in the north east! Let me know how things progress, if there’s anything I can do etc. etc. My brother in law worked for the Gazette, for example and still has plenty media contacts.
    Good to make your acquaintance and good luck with it all!
    Rachel

  11. Hello, and thanks very much for the follow, the read, the comment and the offer! I’d be very grateful for any help.

    I’m planning to keep updating things as I make progress and call on any and all offers of help when I can. I’ve set up a blog at http://newritingfestival.wordpress.com, do have a look.

    And nice to meet you!

  12. Definitely start one up hun. I think all these events should be made much more accessable. I am in the same boat with not being the poorest of people but when I have to pay for childcare to go out for a day or evening (Doo works at least 84 hours a week) then it becomes a strain. Didnt know about the Get Writing In Hertfordshire. Will check that out since that’s where I am from πŸ™‚ xx

  13. Thanks Kate! I think Get Writing may have closed booking now since it’s coming up v soon, but it sounded v good. Worth checking out for next year maybe?

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